Stormy seas and safe harbours – lessons in community

Storms in the Pacific. August 2015
Three hurricanes in the North Pacific!

Back in 2013 when Doug was solo-sailing from the Marquesas to Hawaii, and wondering whether to just carry straight on up to Vancouver, he heard radio check-ins from a couple of boats doing that journey who were having a pretty rough time of it. Rough enough for him to realize that he should call it a day for that season’s sailing, leave the boat on Oahu, and get himself up to Vancouver for some much needed rest and shoulder surgery. He’s mentioned those boats a few times while we were working out whether he could sail to Vancouver this summer, not wanting to leave any later than the end of August if at all possible. The last few months have been all about trying to get the engine fixed, while simultaneously prepping the boat to be ready to set off. As the end of August approached, and with the engine really close to working properly, things were still up in the air about whether Illusion was going to be leaving the harbour.

Storms in Hawaii
Storms in Hawaii

It looked extremely hopeful, then not at all likely, then definitely yes, then definitely no, then actually, maybe, then yes, the engine’s fixed, let’s do this, then oh shit, the weather! By then it was the 27th August, there wasn’t a good weather window to set sail for a week to ten days, and after that it wasn’t likely to get much better. So, long story short, after a couple of days of de-prepping the boat for sailing and readying her to be left alone for a while, Doug flew back to Vancouver.

Storms in Vancouver – trees down near our house

The day he arrived back Vancouver was hit by huge storms – trees came down all over the town, including right near our house, and thousands of people were left without power. We found ourselves making coffee for a guy whose car was underneath one of those trees and who amazingly had edged forward in traffic just in time to be totally unharmed, then inviting over another friend to drink tea and charge her phone, then being ready to host another couple of people if their power didn’t come back quickly. It was quite a surreal welcome home for Doug, but a great reminder of the importance of community, something that Doug has often talked about as a highpoint of his cruising years back when Illusion was new! In Kewalo Basin Harbor we’ve been so happy to connect with the other cruisers and boaters, sharing tips, tools and beers. The Full Monty crew and the guys on the catamaran next door have been amazingly supportive and helpful to Doug as he tried to get ready to leave, and one happy result of leaving Illusion there another winter is that we get to hang out with them again!

Stormy weather in Vancouver
Stormy weather in Vancouver

Somehow it feels really easy to connect when you’re out and about in the harbour, working on your boats or wandering along the dock, calling by to say hi. In the city, those connections can feel a lot harder to create and maintain. We love our street and neighbourhood, and the storms were a reminder that creating community is often just about taking the time to say hi, opening your door, putting on the kettle for a cuppa. It’s easy to get all romantic about the boating and sailing communities – the challenge is to bring that into our city life too.

Drying out the sail, ready to pack it up
Drying out the sail, ready to pack it up

This last week, seeing the world react to the tragic images of drowned refugees and the refugee camps in Calais, has been another lesson in community. Our relationship to boats and the ocean comes from such a place of privilege. Boats and the open ocean, for us, represent adventure, excitement, beauty, nature, a chance to live simply, frugally, to be connected to the elements, to feel alive….  To have such a sharp reminder of how different this perspective is for so many people is a sobering thing indeed. Browsing through my regular dose of sailing blogs and sailing-related Facebook pages has been leaving me overwhelmed by the great division between these perspectives and experiences. But there is also so much hope and inspiration out there in the sheer number of people who are talking, some perhaps for the first time, about issues faced by refugees and about what can be done to help.  I’m inspired to see so much action and care, including lots of suggestions of how to help. I’m reminded of the importance of the bigger picture, and the little details that make it up. I’m motivated to do more. Community on a massive, difficult, beautiful scale.

Back together in Vancouver (Toby's hat made by the marvellous Beccy Owen, community music leader)
Back together in Vancouver (Toby’s hat made by the marvellous Beccy Owen, singer, knitter, and community music leader)

As a result, our ‘difficult decision’ to leave the boat in Hawaii another winter doesn’t feel like too big a deal. The engine is fixed, we are back together, safe and sound, cosy in our little flat in the suddenly chilly autumnal weather, able to travel back to see the boat or our families when we want. It is an unbelievably lucky situation to be in. Our circumstances could be so very different. As Doug’s ex-cruising partner commented ‘the ocean will still be there next year’, and in the meantime, I hope we can remember to keep our hearts, minds and doors open….

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